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Talking Business: Where are the manufacturers to produce own-label for indies?

Nick Fryer is owner of four-store indie mini chain Gun Hill Clothing Company.

Nick Fryer owner of Gun Hill Clothing Company

Nick Fryer owner of Gun Hill Clothing Company

How many UK and overseas manufacturers are ready, willing and able to produce small runs of own-label products for independent retailers like me?

I have been trading as Gun Hill for 21 years and run four stores across East Anglia in Burnham Market, Holt, Southwold and Saffron Walden.

We sell branded clothing such as Ralph Lauren, Hackett, Gant and Crew for men, plus the likes of White Stuff, Gant and One Season for women. But we now also offer our own-label products in response to some of these brands opening their own shops in our locations and then being on almost permanent Sale or promotion.

We have sourced several UK manufacturers and so have shirts from Northern Ireland, jeans from Yorkshire, Scottish knitwear and even belts handmade in Hackney. Why are there not more manufacturers offering own-label capabilities for smaller retailers?

The internet means independent shops have their stock scanned all the time by potential customers who then go hunting online for a saving. I know several retailers who would love to do their own-label but it is tough to find a UK or overseas supplier willing to handle the relatively small runs.

Visiting a large sales agency in London that handles lots of brands, I felt there was a massive opportunity for a small corner of space to be dedicated to manufacturers that can produce own-label. The market is changing and we independent retailers are less keen to make a brand famous and then have it open in our small town or village.

Consider the lovely coastal town of Southwold in Suffolk, where Gun Hill was one of three independent clothing retailers. In the last three years we have been joined by Crew, Seasalt, Fat Face, Joules (which, weirdly, has two shops) Jack Wills, Quba and, most bizarrely to my mind, Havaianas. Obviously the retail cake doesn’t get bigger with their arrival, so there is less to go round. More importantly, why would I want to help launch and introduce these brands when this is the end game? (I started stocking Crew when it only had two shops).

What do agents and manufacturers reading Drapers think? The future for independents is being in control and that means sourcing and presenting a significant own-label offer. Are you ready, willing and able to help?

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